Culinary Creations: Tomatoes bring flavor variation to every dish
EDITOR’S NOTE: Culinary Creations is a column that prints the last week of every month. It is written by Shawn L. Hanlin, executive chef of Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, operated by Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business, Arts & Sciences as a training site for students in culinary arts and baking pastry arts majors. Hanlin has been a chef for 40 years and was on Team USA for the World Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany.
You say tomato, I say tomato.
Good cooking, everyone. Shawn here from Le Jeune Chef, back to share some more fun food facts. This month, I want to feature another local seasonal item: the good ol’ tomato.
The cultivation of tomatoes can be traced back to 500 B.C. in southern Mexico and Central America by the Azteks and other peoples of Mesoamerica.
Now a staple ingredient in almost all cuisines covering the globe, the tomato was once thought to be poisonous and feared by Europeans back in the 1700s, sickening especially the wealthy aristocrats. But as it ended up, the pewter China, which was high in lead, that the tomatoes were eaten on was the culprit for the bad rap tomatoes received.
While modern cultivation capabilities – such as greenhouses, hydroponic farms and genetic modification to have tomatoes turn red before they’re actually ripe – have made tomatoes available year-round, true tomato flavor can only be enjoyed by vine-ripened local product. The taste difference is vast.
As you will see in all methods and recipes I will provide in this monthly article, we will use minimal ingredients at the peak of their freshness, cooked simply to let the true flavor of the ingredient be highlighted. This month, I will provide two presentations that deliver the best the tomato has to offer.
First, we have a simple sliced tomato, simply topped with kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, extra virgin olive oil, basil, a drop of lemon juice and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. That’s it. Just look at the photo and replicate.
The next recipe is a simple fresh tomato sauce that you can use with any pasta. My favorite is good ol’ spaghetti noodles. Yet again, few ingredients, at the peak of freshness, simply prepared, as follows.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
Crushed red chili, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh black pepper, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Fresh basil, chopped, to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste
Squeeze of lemon
Serve with your favorite pasta
In a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot (do not use aluminum, which will react with tomatoes), heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red chili. Sweat this until fragrant. Be careful not to burn.
Add the tomatoes. Reduce heat to a low simmer for one hour, stirring often.
Puree with a stick or immersion blender. Season to taste with the sugar, fresh herbs (basil and parsley) and salt and pepper. Toss with your favorite pasta. You’re more than welcome to top it off with Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Enjoy!